Saturday, January 21, 2012

"We just don't want to get involved"

How useful is natural surveillance for crime prevention if people see, but don't care? If crooks know people don't care, or are too afraid to act, why bother with street lighting and eyes on the street?

The video above shows by-standers in New York having fun with a free mega-phone. True, there's no crime in-progress. Still, it does sound like they care. The cynically-inclined might predict mega-phone abuse, or theft. Maybe, but not here. On this day altruism rules.

It wasn't always so.

On another New York day, actually the evening of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death on the street near her home. Her murder was the random act of a predator.

The New York Times reported 38 people watched out their windows and did nothing. For decades, "we don't want to get involved" became the motto for urban decay and alienation. It laid the foundation for a whole new social psychology - proxemics. Oscar Newman built defensible space out of it. Today we call it CPTED.

Now the by-stander effect is understood. In a twist of irony it turns out the 38 witness theory is probably false. Reinvestigation revealed only 3 people saw small portions of Kitty's murder, some called police immediately and, due to poor lighting, most misunderstood what was happening.

I wonder...with better lighting and territorial control of semi-public space on that street, would Kitty Genovese be alive today to play with street megaphones?

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Eclectic Breakfast said...

I like the idea of public megaphones. Most will regard it as play - even the participants, but the value is in breaking down the natural fear of embarrassing oneself in public. By practicing "doing something" under mild stress one is more likely to "do something" when the balloon goes up.

As I looked for other repudiations of the flawed reporting that created the Kitty Genovese myth I found this:

Be well. When the time comes do something, do anything.

GSaville said...

Thanks Eclectic, I completely agree about "doing something". Another exceptional example is this street piano sent to me by CPTED Steven Woolerich in Red Deer, Alberta.

Thanks also for the link. I hadn't seen that.